I’m pretty excited about this week’s inspiring artist. Gareth Asch is the lead songwriter and frontman of my favourite South African band, K, Ray and the Bird. We’ve been privileged to play many gigs with them, and even more privileged to have become great friends with them. When we go to Cape Town, they’re the first people we call. I never get tired of their music, and each live show brings a different element of the band’s collective character to the forefront.
Having chatted a lot to Gareth about songwriting over the past few years (and having listened to a lot of his songs), I’ve been continually impressed by his songwriting ethic. I’ve never known anyone to write so many songs!
Oh, and he’s one of the most hilarious people I know. Case in point:
If you haven’t yet heard K, Ray and the Bird’s music, please take a listen using any of the audio tracks/videos embedded in this post, or click on any of the links at the bottom of the page for more info on the band.
Name: Gareth Asch
Band: K, Ray and The Bird
Albums titles to date: Waiting for harmony (2009); Rhymes in the attic (2011)
Release date of next record: Hopefully 2014
Favourite songwriter: Billy Joel
Instruments: Guitar and mouth organ
Describe your music in five words or less:
Quirky, harmony, deep, fun, chordie.
How old were you when you first started writing songs?
7 or 8 years old. My first song was called “Someone’s Got a Crush on Me”.
How has your songwriting changed and developed over the years?
Yes. A big step was when I started playing guitar at the age of 15/16 years old. Before that I used to write and perform rap songs from the age of 13 – 15. Then I developed progressively by playing alot in churches, playing in 5 bands and writing lots of songs and many genres too. It also helps to immerse yourself in lots of music by listening to many different artists to let yourself be inspired with regards to song writing.
What’s the one song you wish you’d written?
For the longest time (Billy Joel); Objects in the review mirror (may appear closer than they are) (Meat Loaf); Off he goes (Pearl Jam); Blue (The Jawhawks); Prayer (Petra); Somebody to love (Queen). Could not mention one, sorry.
Approximately how many songs have you written, in total?
300/400 (though I recently read that you shouldn’t do a stock take).
(Note from Mali: This video was shot in our old living room!)
What’s your favourite of all the songs you’ve written, and why?
“His Love is All You Need” – I remember loving the song when I wrote it in 2004 as it was inspired by real life circumstances and the song really took on a life of its own. I could not stop singing it in the shower and playing percussion on my torso at the same time. It has an old school swing groove, it is very uncool, but I just love it. I love that it is inspired by a friend, then it references Hannah (in the Bible) and then even indirectly references Jesus too. Oopsy, I think I gave the whole plot away.
Which five artists/bands have had the biggest influence on your music?
The Jayhawks, Radiohead, Cat Stevens, The Beatles, The Avett Brothers. (P.S. This was hard as I could easily think of 15 artists.)
Complete this sentence: Music is… beautiful, educational and cathartic.
What challenges (if any) have you faced in reconciling your faith in Christ with your passion for songwriting? How have you overcome these challenges?
The challenge for me is to know when to mention your faith and when to let a song leave a question in the air. I would like people to see our whole body of work and see that our faith in Jesus is there; it is just not apparent in every song individually. And I am comfortable with that. I am a Christian who loves to write songs. It overflows through most of the songs and sometimes it doesn’t in some songs. People might have a problem with that, but I think it is very normal. We want to play all types of venues without being labelled as a “CHURCH ONLY” band. The verse I think of is that we should be as “shrewd as serpants” (what Jesus said when He sent out the 72 followers.) Music can subtly refer to the gospel and sometimes be used as a carrot to an event where the full gospel is being preached. I love the fact that God allows me to express myself and uses my music in different ways. The challenge for me is that my songs don’t become too self-indulgent and about ME ME ME. I like to think every single song of ours has a Biblical reference somewhere. I also believe you can teach wonderful Biblical truth through music that can enrich people in many ways.
What’s been the most memorable or exciting moment of your music career to date?
The gig (our first CD launch) when I realised it was possible for listeners to enjoy and appreciate what K, Ray and The Bird do. Up until then, it was mainly friends and family support and I wasn’t sure if what we did could be attractive to people. It was a big personal breakthrough and very encouraging to know that we could find a market that liked what we do.
Finally, what advice would you give to any aspiring songwriters/musicians reading this?
Write loads (the more the better); work with the best (sub-standard passion/talent will slow you down); Enter lots of competitions and take every possible opportunity; Gig a lot and get a manager (the last 2 tips I got from Elton’s John).
Are you an independent musician/songwriter who would like to be featured as an inspiring artist? Email me on firstname.lastname@example.org with a link to somewhere that I can stream your music!